Skip to main content

Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

See other formats


The Classification of Languages         181
This happened within a few years of the publication of Button's
Theory of the Earth, a book which challenged the Mosaic account of
the creation Custodians of die Pentateuch were alarmed by the
prospect that Sanskrit would bring down the Tower of Babel. To
anticipate the danger, they pilloried Sanskrit as a priestly fraud, a kind
of pidgin-classic concocted by Brahmins from Greek and Latin ele-
ments William Jones, himself a scholar of unimpeachable piety, had
to make the secular confession
"I can only declare my belief that the language of Noah is irretrievably
lost After diligent search I cannot find a single word used in common
by the Arabian, Indian, and Tartar families, before the admixture of
these dialects occasioned by the Mahommedan conquests "
Together with tea and coffee, Napoleon's blockade of England with-
held from the Continent Sanskrit grammars and dictionaries which
English scholars were now busy turning out Fortunately the Btbho-
theque Nationals in Pans possessed Sanskrit texts Pans had in custody
Hamilton, an Enghshman who enhvened his involuntary sojourn in
the French capital by giving private lessons in Sanskrit One of his
pupils was a brilliant young German, Fnednch Schlegel In 1808,
Schlegel published a little book, Uber die Sprache und Weishett der
Inder (On the Language and Philosophy of the Indians) This put
Sanskrit on the Continental map Much that is in Schlegel's book
makes us smile to-day, perhaps most of all the author's dictum that
Sanskrit is the mother of all languages None the less, it was a turning-
point in the scientific study of language In a single sentence which
boldly prospects the field of future research, Schlegel exposes the new
impetus which came from contemporary progress of naturalistic
studies
"Comparative grammar will give us entirely new information on the
genealogy of language, m exactly the same way in which comparative
anatomy has thrown light upon the natural history "
The study of Latin in the Middle Ages had preserved a secure basis
for this evolutionary approach to the study of other languages, because
the Latin parentage of modern French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian,
and Rumanian is an historically verifiable fact Unfortunately, history
has not been so obliging as to preserve the parent of the Teutonic and
the Slavonic groups. To be sure, the present differences between
Dutch, German, and the Scandinavian languages diminish as we go
back in time Still, differences remain when we have retraced our steps